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Setting Chain of Events in Motion Not Necessarily a Cause (NY)


September 26, 2017 at 2:50:10 AM

We have all seen the scenario when a tragic accident results from a chain of events where more than one actor could have legal fault. We see this situation frequently when one of the tortfeasor’s insurance limits fall far below fair compensation, resulting in lawsuits against so called “deep pockets.”  Cases can be won on proximate cause when one party merely furnishes the opportunity for the real tortfeasor’s fault.
In the recent case of <a href="">Goldstein v. Kingston</a><em>, </em>a pedestrian was struck and later died from his injuries while walking in an intersection.  The defendant driver was moving in reverse at the time of the impact. Minutes before the accident, the defendant was driving on a one-way street in Queens when she came upon workers employed by the defendant Forest Hills Garden Corporation, who were re-sodding a part of the grassy area between the curb and the sidewalk. After a worker waved at her in a manner that she understood to mean that she could not proceed further on the one-way street due to the ongoing work, defendant drove her vehicle in reverse to an intersection, where she struck the decedent, who was walking in a crosswalk.
Goldstein, as executor of the decedent's estate and individually, commenced this action against the vehicle’s owner and driver, as well as Forest Hills Garden Corporation, to recover damages for wrongful death. The Supreme Court subsequently granted FHGC's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against it. The Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department affirmed the dismissal as to FHGC.
FHGC established evidence that its employees' conduct in performing work near the roadway merely furnished the condition or occasion for the accident, and as a matter of law, was not a proximate cause of the decedent's injuries. The driver's decision to reverse her vehicle and drive back down the one-way street, ultimately striking the decedent, was the sole proximate cause of the accident.
The trial court and the appellate court held that FHGC demonstrated its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. FHGC merely furnished the condition or occasion for the accident, and was not a proximate cause of the decedent's injuries. The court reasoned that "There can be more than one proximate cause of an accident'" and "[g]enerally it is for the trier of fact to determine the issue of proximate cause." However, "liability may not be imposed upon a party who merely furnished the condition or occasion for the occurrence of the event' but was not one of its causes."
Thanks to Vincent Terrasi for his contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href=""></a>.

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